I’m currently teaching a course on the Apostle Paul at Tyndale University College. One of the things that I ask my students is, why should we study the Apostle Paul? Shouldn’t we be “red letter Christians,” that is shouldn’t we just follow Jesus and not worry about Paul? After all, we are Christ-ians and not Paul-ians.
I would affirm that I am indeed a follower of Jesus and it is only in the name of Jesus that we find forgiveness and eternal life. But I would also affirm that it is important to study the Apostle Paul. Here are four reasons why.
- Our New Testament doesn’t stop after John (or Acts). The New Testament includes thirteen letters of Paul and the early church, right from the beginning saw Paul’s letters as worth including with the Gospels. We dare not reject that lightly.
- Most of us are Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. Jesus’ teachings, while definitely applicable to us, were given in a Jewish context. Paul applies the gospel in a Gentile setting, raising issues that are relevant to us.
- Paul’s teachings are in continuity with Jesus’ teachings. Some people attempt to pit Jesus against Paul. Some even try to make Paul the founder of Christianity. The truth is that Jesus and Paul preach the same gospel. Paul works out the details of application more widely than Jesus, but it is the same gospel.
- Paul received his gospel from Jesus. God spoke through Paul to the churches he wrote to and God continues to speak to us through Paul. Some of the key events in church history (e.g. Reformation) have been sparked by fresh readings of Paul.
The truth is that we do not have to choose between Jesus and Paul. We are to be followers of Jesus, but we can look to Paul, another follower of Jesus, as a brilliant and practical theologian who applies the Jesus gospel to real life.